Ireland and Brighton’s Aaron Connolly. INPHO/RYAN BYRNE
By Sean Creedon
Galway-born Aaron Connolly shrugged off the challenge from Cork-born Kevin Long on his way to scoring Brighton’s winner in the 2-1 game away to Burnley on Sunday. Fellow Irish international Robbie Brady was a late sub for the home side.
With Liverpool presented with the EPL trophy in midweek, the last series of the games in the EPL on Sunday were all about European qualification and relegation. Manchester United finished the season on a high after winning 2-0 away to Leicester to secure 3rd place in the table, thus ensuring Champions League football at Old Trafford next season. Chelsea beat Wolves 2-0 and got the 4th Champions League spot. Irish defender Matt Doherty made his 300th appearance for Wolves but they could only finish 7th — the same placing as last year (Newcastle in 13th were the only other club to repeat last year’s position).As of now Wolves miss out on a Europa Cup spot, but if Chelsea beat Arsenal in next Saturday’s FA Cup final at Wembley, then Wolves will be in Europe. If Arsenal win the Cup they will get the last Europa League place.
Norwich were relegated a few weeks back, but Watford made a brave effort to avoid the drop, coming back from being 3-0 down to Arsenal at the Emirates to make it 3-2. Bournemouth won 3-1 away to Everton, but the Cherries’ five-year stay in the EPL came to an end as Aston Villa picked up a crucial point in a 1-1 away to West Ham. Former Irish under 21 player Jack Grealish, captained Villa and gave them the lead on 84 minutes, but the Hammers equalized just a minute later. Cork-born Conor Hourihane started for Villa. Another former Irish player Declan Rice played every minute of the EPL season for West Ham.
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The Irish trio of Will Smallbone, Shane Long and Michael Obafemi all saw action from the bench for Southampton as the beat Sheffield Utd 3-1 at St Mary’s. John Egan and Enda Stevens both started for the Blades, who finished the season in 9th place, their highest in the EPL era. And James McCarthy kept his place in the Crystal Palace team that drew 1-1 with Spurs at Selhurst Park.
The Championship season ended last Wednesday with Leeds United and West Bromwich Albion both promoted automatically. Irish Under-21 international defender Dara O’Shea from Dublin figured in WBA’s campaign and played all of the 2-2 game against QPR on Wednesday that secured second place. The play-offs will see Cardiff battle Fulham (both of them were relegated from the Premier League last year) and Brentford play Swansea. But there is confusion at the bottom. As it stands right now Hull City, Charlton Athletic and Wigan Athletic are relegated. However, there could be further twists and turns to come before the three teams dropping into League One are known for certain. Wigan, who would have finished in 13th place but the for the 12-point penalty, are appealing. The appeal will be heard on July 31 and they will argue against the sanction under the “force majeure” clause, because of the wholly unexpected nature of the decision by the club’s new owner, Au Yeung Wai Kay, to place them in administration. If the points penalty is wiped out, or reduced sufficiently to take them out of the bottom three, then Barnsley would drop into the relegation zone. The Yorkshire club might then consider action of their own.
Also, Sheffield Wednesday could yet be in trouble after reports than an independent commission has heard their case, which concerns EFL misconduct charges over the circumstances around the sale of Hillsborough for £60 million to club owner Dejphon Chansiri. The sale helped them record a pre-tax profit for the 2017-18 season. Questions were asked over the sale price as both West Ham (£40 million) and Reading (£27 million) based in the more affluent south of England, sold their grounds for much less.
Stoke City has confirmed that they have released former Irish international Stephen Ward. The 34 year-old Dublin-born defender joined the Potters on a one-year contract after he was released by Burnley at the end of the 2018-19 season. Ward was troubled by injury for most of the season and his last game was a 3-0 defeat to Wigan at the end of June.
BOOST FOR SLIGO
A boost for pointless Sligo Rovers as the League of Ireland re-starts next weekend with the signing of Junior Ogedi-Uzokwe from Israel club Hapoel Hadera. He spent part of last season with Derry City and the London-born striker finished top scorer in the League with 14 goals. The Bit O’Red are pointless at the bottom of the Premier Division following their opening four fixtures and they now have 14 games to get out of drop zone. Ogedi-Uzokwe said: ‘‘It has been a frustrating year for me. I left Israel when the league was stopped due to Covid-19 and I just wanted to be closer to home. When the offer came to come back to the League of Ireland, it appealed to me.’’